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Growing Pains

Adjusting to Everest's new height

by Borgna Brunner
Everest from Dudu Kosi

Future generations will remember Everest's new height: two extra meters have rounded out the number. (Source/Nelson Chenkin)

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If the number 29,028 is seared into your mind along with 1066, 1492, and other seemingly immutable figures, get ready for a big change in the holy canon of statistics. That number, of course, was the elevation—in feet—of the world's highest mountain.

As of Nov. 11, 1999, the new official height of Mt. Everest was announced as 29,035 feet.

Of Metrics and Mountains

The new height was determined by using satellite-based technology: the Trimble Global Positioning System (GPS). A team of seven climbers measured the mountain from the summit on May 5, 1999. The data was collected from various GPS satellite receivers—one of which had to be placed in bedrock—at the very top of Everest. It took the climbers a number of attempts over several years until they were able to successfully set up the equipment at the summit.

Peculiar American Figure

The number 29,028 was always a peculiarly American figure anyway, and will not be missed by the rest of the world, who use the metric system. The number 8,848 meters is the figure indelibly etched on the minds of the 5.7 billion non-Americans and non-British of the world (or at least those among them who, through coercion or passion, have a set of common statistics committed to memory).

Now, that number has now been replaced by one with a more mnemonic ring: 8,850 meters. Future generations of schoolchildren from China to the Czech Republic ought to have an easier time remembering the height of Everest now that two extra meters have rounded out the number.

Future Switch?

As for Americans, there may be even more statistical surprises awaiting us in our lifetimes. Someday we may be asked to change our mindsets yet again—just when 29,035 feet begins to sink in and feel natural we may be asked to switch to 8,850 meters.




Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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